"What Took Us Years Could Now Take Half the Time": Innovation Is Redefining Pharma
AI and other cutting-edge technologies have significantly shortened and refined the R&D process in the pharmaceutical industry. Dr. Eran Harary of Teva Pharmaceuticals sheds light on these wonders and offers hints about some upcoming news.
Written by Guy Ronen, in collaboration with Teva.
Reprinted with permission from the original Haaretz article:
Most technologies have seen costs decrease over the years. However, in the pharmaceutical industry, costs have increased drastically. In the 1970s, the cost to develop a single drug was around 180 million dollars, a number that also reflected the failures in the process. In the year 2000 and beyond, it reached more than 2.6 billion dollars. "It is clear that this cannot continue," says Dr. Eran Harary, the head of Teva's Innovative Medicines & Clinical Development group, global R&D, who also mentions the extended time - an average of 12-15 years - required for development and regulatory approval. "This is an enormous economic burden for companies and countries, with significant investments and long-term returns that are increasingly difficult to justify. To continue developing life-saving drugs, the pharmaceutical industry needs innovative solutions.”
The solutions that Dr. Harary mentions apply to all stages of R&D. For example, in the discovery phase, to produce a compound that will target a specific disease with clinical value, suitable cells must be identified and manipulated. Selecting one out of millions of possibilities through trial and error takes years. However, a machine that analyzes cell images could quickly identify the most promising candidates for success, shortening lengthy and complex processes to just a few days. When the math is done, the budget implications are clear.
The innovative tools and advanced technologies are developed by Teva Pharmaceuticals itself, with the help of internal AI personnel, external tech companies or through close collaborations with academic and research institutions. In order to identify interesting and potential breakthrough opportunities, one of the groups in the company is trusted with ongoing monitoring of the world of science, research, hospital laboratories, and the entire ecosystem, both in Israel and worldwide. Dozens of technologies have already been identified that have led and could lead to successful collaborations around drug development or streamlining their delivery to the body. For example, Teva's extended-release injectable suspension drug for schizophrenia patients, awaiting FDA approval, is designed to give doctors and patients alike another treatment option that tackles or bypasses the challenges of oral drugs which might suffer from poor compliance. In the third and final phase of this clinical trial, an 80% drop in relapse events was recorded.
Unleashing the Potential of Bioconvergence
The topic of innovation is not new to Teva. Dr. Harary reminds us that the company knew how to storm agilely into the world of generic drugs and become a powerhouse in the field, immediately following its regulation in the Hatch-Waxman Act at the American Congress in 1984. Today, the company is still associated with generics, which in itself undergoes renewal processes. However, alongside this, investment in innovation - the development of original drugs - is growing. Thus, Teva developed sought-after drugs for movement disorders and Migraine, and additional drugs are currently in clinical trials or other stages of development. Another path is a partnership with biotech companies in various models, and hence, in a joint development with a European company, an important breakthrough in the treatment of an incurable neurological disease hopefully may come to life.
In addition to direct competition, surprising collaborations are occurring among industry players to develop tools and approach regulators with joint requests. One such initiative, AION Labs, is a cutting-edge innovation lab in the bioconvergence field. By merging the fields of life sciences with data science and engineering, while adopting cloud, AI, and computer science technologies, AION Labs aims to solve the R&D challenges facing the pharmaceutical industry. The lab brings together companies such as Teva, AstraZeneca, Merck, Pfizer, and Amazon Web Services (AWS) to cultivate the local ecosystem and change the way drugs are developed.
Another significant element is Teva's 30+ collaborations with leading researchers from top-notch Israeli Academia institutions to jointly develop from early stages, new innovative drugs in the fields of immune-oncology, immunotherapy, CNS and more.
Teva's innovation also stretches to ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) realms, in its recent large debt financing of $5 billion and $2.5 billion, Teva committed to challenging environmental goals (reducing carbon emissions) and social goals (providing access to medicine to developing economies). This made Teva the world's first pharmaceutical company to issue Sustainability Linked Bonds (SLB's) tied to 2 different targets. Teva is also involved in training and education, whether through mentoring programs for entrepreneurs and doctoral students in biology, or through intensive exposure of doctors to the world of research and development, as well as working with youth.
"The new innovative tools and approaches shorten timelines, provide more accurate results, eliminate background noise, and are expected to increase the chances of a drug that has reached the clinical in-human stage to make it all the way to the market (which currently stands at only 11% on average). Innovation allows us unprecedented achievements, and ultimately, it is a culture: to turn every stone to see how things can be done faster, more efficiently, and with value to the patient. Even in an industry that's considered relatively traditional and conservative, there's no escaping the need for innovative platforms and creative thinking."